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Will Server-side Tagging Fulfill the Cookie Data Hole?

GTM image with Server-side tagging text

Feature image is credited to https://www.simoahava.com/analytics/server-side-tagging-google-tag-manager/ September 2020.

 

For years now, there have been rumors, worries, and talk about web browser cookies vanishing leaving us digital marketers with no means of tracking customers and website visitors on our client’s sites.  But does this mean that without digital browser cookies we instantly lose tracking of user interactions?  No, it doesn’t.  And here are three reasons why server-side tagging will become important as we navigate the cookie-less world.

 

1)  Server-side tagging is cleaner

The solution?  Well, as someone who has been learning about how to structure web applications, build websites and e-commerce solutions for the past decade, this switch over to the “Cookie-less Era” has always been lingering in the back of my mind.  I always realized that tagging a site using Google Tag Manager and making ad campaigns work required monitoring of what’s in my web browser and had nothing to do with all the activity from users jumping around from page to page and interacting with my website on the server.  Utilizing web browser actions and tying them to GTM tags that then reported back to Facebook, your Display Network, and/or Google Ads made me think about how I could use my website, instead, to track what was going on SERVER SIDE and not within the web browser.  Website back end functions and server-side scripting should be “tagable” as well!  As we move closer to this era, Google Tag Manager has released a BETA version of GTM for server-side tagging which, at the time of this article, can only be used with the Google Cloud Platform server-side environment.

By using this type of server-side tagging, we will be able to apply tags using server HTTP events as opposed to web browser actions.  Direct actions on your website will be able to be tracked just as web browser actions were before.  What this creates for us are many new ways to track our website visitors and opens a whole new world of possibilities for digital marketers and website programmers to plan and work towards flawless tracking standards without the need for cookies.  Instead, user data could be tied to the server session ID perhaps, or we could even use the server-generated user process IDs (PID).  Very cool stuff. I recommend taking a look at Simo Ahava’s trusty blog post, there is a ton of great information to be learned on server-side tagging and all things GTM.

 

2) Data, but with consent

Website users, in the new age of cookie-less web browsing, will get to decide if they want to share their info.  Just like now, we travel to a website and we are asked, “Do you want to set your browser to accept cookies from this website?”.  Depending on what you select, you will either be tracked on the site you are visiting or, you won’t.  If and when this “Cookie-less Era” occurs, marketers will need to be able to work with those website users that have given consent to work with their behaviors and data.  Google is even planning on rolling out a Consent Mode in their analytics and tracking products to give us access to ONLY people who have approved us to access their data.  Simply put, Consent Mode:

“…allows you to adjust how your Google tags behave based on the consent status of your users. You can indicate whether consent has been granted for Analytics and Ads cookies. Google’s tags will dynamically adapt, only utilizing cookies for the specified purposes when consent has been given by the user.”

Given consent from the website visitor, we will be able to utilize user and session IDs and continue to track conversions and behavior just like we normally have done in the past.  We will be able to attribute the source of the traffic and conversion data and we will be able to apply geographic and demographic filtering to the types of traffic we see.  This sort of data is so important in making decisions for new campaigns and retargeting campaign planning.

Without consent from a website user, there would be no accurate trail or tracking of a user’s actions, and cookies will not be read or placed in a user’s browser.  Advertising platform information will also take a negative hit as people who click on ads and do not give consent, will not provide any feedback to the advertising platform we are using.

Whether a user decides to consent to track or not, there should be another layer of security to our data tracking services that makes sure we can still strategize around user behaviors.  GTM tagging should evolve.  Even if the cookie ceases to exist, shouldn’t we still have a way to still see what people are doing from our ads and through the website funnel journey?  Our hard work strategizing campaigns and our client’s advertising dollars deserves it.  Don’t you think?

 

3) Identity resolution with data onboarding

Marketers can transform their first-party data into anonymized IDs. With deterministic matching, we can then build customer profiles and sophisticated targeting.  Onboarding data with help from companies like LiveRamp allows advertisers to target their most valuable audiences, with the controls necessary for consent.  This means of audience targeting will become more important as the cookie goes away, but can be utilized today.  Furthermore, today’s Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) are ingesting users from the bid stream that are already consenting to have their information used for advertising; those who are not, are not included in bid streams.

As DSPs seek to partner with or enhance their device graph data, matching (consenting) users and households to the many devices used is going to be paramount to any new campaign set up.  As we see with Roku, the new Roku ID for Advertisers, or RIDA, is a database of deterministic Roku household IDs that enhance the device graph of users, their devices, and the households in which they live–not cookies.  Not to mention, having RIDAs inform the graph also exposes advertisers to a whole new world of TV watching behavior data and can be used across all devices and addressable inventory. Access to Roku’s proprietary data is only available to Roku users, but fear not, mediate.ly is a Roku partner and can use this data in its campaigns.

The good news for those that have been around ad tech for some time knows that good technology companies have been planning for cookies to die out for some time.  We have known for a while that the cookie is not persistent and unstable, and should not have been relied on to build an industry.  Yet here we are, and we’re ready.  Bring on iOS14, Chrome’s cookie-less browser, or others that we will see in the future.  Using device graph data (either built or bought) will power our audience targeting of the future, even if scaled back because the accuracy of that data is more valuable the reach.

 

At mediate.ly, we pride ourselves in gathering and reporting on the smartest and best possible data for our clients to make educated decisions about their advertising industry methods.  Rest assured that we will be at the forefront of this expansion to server-side tagging and utilizing this technology to enhance our client’s online marketing needs.